CalWorks targets California’s neediest families, offering those who meet an extensive list of qualifications an average of $522 a month and services including job searches, vocational training, transportation and childcare. It also requires the head of the household to train for, search for and hold down a job.
If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s suggestion to pull the program’s plug makes it through the Legislature, according to county Human Services Agency director Joe Chelli, many of San Joaquin County’s 16,000 cash-assistance recipients could find themselves without what little help they have.
Chelli’s not sure what specific changes would be in store for the county’s welfare system under the governor’s plan. As he told me Thursday, “We’re kind of in an uncharted area right now.”
But what he does know is that without CalWorks, moving people off the welfare rolls and into the workforce — a mountain to climb if ever there was one — will become akin to climbing Everest without oxygen. Possible, but damn difficult.
“I really believe it’s a step backwards,” Chelli said. “We want trained, income-producing individuals in our county that are not dependent on cash assistance. …
“If we take away any ability to provide employment-related training and services, we’re back to just issuing benefits again.”
Given the choice between simply handing out checks and handing out checks to people who are on the road to self-sufficiency, I know which one I choose. And the approach has been successful in San Joaquin County, according to Chelli.
Even during the worst recession in 70 years, there are 7,000 fewer cash-assistance cases in the county than in 1996, when the welfare-to-work program was instituted, Chelli told me.
It strikes me as a bad idea to strangle an investment strategy that helps people care for themselves long-term, especially when it’s not even clear how much the state would save.
California contributes $1.8 billion a year to CalWorks, but the feds chip in $3.7 billion — which goes away if the state says no mas. Plus, $600 million in federal stimulus money could disappear if CalWorks ends.
Factor in the lost contributions of those who would otherwise have found jobs with the help of CalWorks, and eliminating the program could cost more than it saves.
In a time of increased economic pressure and poverty, it makes little sense to eliminate a program that tries to get people back on their feet. And even though plenty of legislators seem to agree, thanks to our historic budget imbalance, it could happen anyway.
And, if it does, those who can least afford it would be the ones who are hurt the most. As usual.
A Bright idea
Schools aren’t exactly flush with cash, but that hasn’t stopped Modesto-based Bright Development from asking the Tracy Unified School District to cough up.
Bright owned development rights to the land Tracy Unified sought for John C. Kimball High School. So when the school district grabbed the land via eminent domain, Bright exercised its right to fair compensation and was awarded just shy of $8 million for the 65 acres — about $4.8 million more than the school district originally offered for the land.
Despite that, Bright continues to press the school district to pay for $576,000 in legal fees incurred during the dispute.
My analysis: Bright was entitled to just compensation for the land, which it received. Fair’s fair, and that’s the cost of doing business for the school district.
But for a company that claims on its Web site to “(Not) just build homes, Bright builds families, neighborhoods and communities where homeowners like you can indulge in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the quest to wrest another half a million from a school district seems decidedly un-neighborly.
I can only guess that Bright sees the legal fees as what was necessary to end Tracy Unified’s low-balling and, therefore, Tracy Unified’s burden to bear. I can also only guess that Bright has been hit hard by the economic downturn and must, like any other company, pinch every penny it can.
I can only guess, because phone calls to Bright’s Carol Bright Tougas were not returned.
It would be an esteemed gesture of goodwill for the company to drop its legal fee demand, which was scheduled to go before a mediator Friday. (Results were not available to me as of press time). Barring such a reversal, here’s hoping the school district prevails.
That hope is for the simple reason that more money awarded to Bright, according to Tracy Unified associate superintendent of business Casey Goodall, would mean less money going toward students.
“It will have an impact on students in the classroom,” he said.
Any legal fee payment would come from the one-time expenditure fund for the Kimball campus. So a decision in Bright’s favor means there will be less to spend on the buildings, furniture, equipment, etc.
According to Bonny Carter, Tracy Unified’s facilities planner, a decision in Bright’s favor wouldn’t stop the district from making sure student needs are met.
But, she said, the project is about $2.5 million over budget. And any cost overruns — including those legal fees — would have to be paid for somehow, possibly by borrowing against future developer fee income. Which means less money for future school projects.
Goodall, at least, was hopeful that the $576,000 will find its way to students in the classroom.
“We’re on the right side of the issue,” he told me.
Let’s hope the mediator sees it that way, too.
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